MEDIA, ENTERTAINMENT AND ARTS ALLIANCE
The Alliance was formed in 1992 through the merging of the unions covering actors, journalists and entertainment industry employees: Actors’ Equity, the Australian Journalists’ Association, and the Australian Theatrical and Amusement Employees’ Association. Since amalgamation, the Symphony Orchestra Musicians’ Association and the NSW Artworkers’ Union have joined the Alliance and the Screen Technicians’ Association of Australia has come under the Alliance banner.
The Australian Journalists’ Association (AJA) was formed at a meeting of journalists in Melbourne on 9 December 1910 after several unsuccessful attempts to form a bond or union as a professional association for journalists.
The meeting was called by Melbourne Herald reporter B.S.B. Cook, who saw an opportunity under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 for journalists to register as an industrial organisation. The Act provided that ‘an employer shall not dismiss an employee or injure him in his employment or alter his position to his prejudice by reason of the circumstance that the employee is entitled to the benefit of an industrial agreement or award’.
Having taken advice from Prime Minister Alfred Deakin and the federal industrial registrar, A.M. Stewart, he was told that the legitimacy of registration by journalists as an industrial organisation was unclear and there would have to be a test case to determine this. Cook organised a meeting at Melbourne’s Empire Café, during which more than 100 journalists voted to form an organisation for registration under the Act.
James McLeod of the Age was elected president, Arthur Norman Smith senior vice-president, W.A. Brennan junior vice-president and William Letcher treasurer. Cook was appointed secretary. Smith took over the presidency soon afterwards.
The AJA lodged its application for registration on 23 December 1910 and was met with opposition from all major newspaper proprietors. The case came before the registrar on 11 April 1911, with Frank Brennan KC arguing successfully that there was no objection under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 to journalists registering as a profession. Registration was granted on 24 May 1911. Within four months, district branches had been registered in each state.
The next major battle for the fledgling AJA was the establishment of an award to cover the various duties of journalists. A committee was formed for this purpose and in November 1911 the ‘Blue Log’ of journalists’ duties was lodged with newspaper proprietors.
A conference was held on 14 December 1911, between representatives of the employers and the AJA, at which there was stalemate between the employers’ position and the AJA’s log of claims and a brief walkout by AJA representatives. A compromise was reached and the agreement filed in the Arbitration Court, for 12 months dating from 1 January 1912. The breakthrough was hailed by the National Union of Journalists in Britain as ‘an agreement which revolutionised the condition of daily newspaper staffs’.
In 1917, after further disagreement between the proprietors and the AJA, a hearing of the Arbitration Court established the grading system for journalists, as well as sick pay and three weeks’ annual leave. Justice Isaacs remarked that: ‘No just comparison can be made by journalism with any other profession. Journalism is a profession sui generis.’
A leading article in the Journalist commented that the result of the case ‘will be to raise the prestige and status of the profession. Journalism will become less a means of earning a living and more a profession imbued with high ideals’. Those ideals were to achieve their fullest expression in 1944 with the AJA Code of Ethics for journalists, in the face of opposition from proprietors—many of whom refused to display the eight-point code in their newsrooms. To promulgate and enforce the code, each state set up an Ethics of Judiciary Committee, which administered the code and dealt with complaints. The code was revised substantially in 1984, when it was issued as a set of 10 clauses, and again in 1999 when it became the 12-clause Media Alliance Code of Ethics that still exists.
One of the most significant contributions of the AJA to journalism as a profession has been the establishment of the Australian Press Council in 1976 after more than 20 years of lobbying by the union. The Council comprises representatives of the proprietors, the union and the public.
The union’s core focus on arbitration and conciliation has been challenged on a number of occasions: in 1944 and 1955 in support of colleagues in the print unions—disputes that ended when strike newspapers (in 1944, the News and in 1955, the Clarion) sold up to 200,000 copies, indicating where the real balance of power lay in the production of newspapers.
Industrial action has rarely been over money, with the union successful in its wage negotiations. Instead, strikes and other action have been in support of colleagues in allied unions, over proprietorial interference in content, to secure adequate compensation for the introduction of new technology or over the devaluing of journalistic skills.
The AJA has been central to the establishment of journalism as a profession. In 1956, the chairman of Ampol, Sir William Gaston Walkley, set up a foundation to run awards for journalistic excellence. Since its inception, the Walkley Awards have grown from five to 34 categories and introduced a raft of professional development initiatives.
The union has also led the way in campaigning for equal pay and status for women journalists, and was the first union to introduce a quota system to ensure equal representation of women on the governing body.
In recent years, the association has recognised Australia’s shifting geopolitical priorities and has moved towards greater involvement in regional issues, hosting the Asia-Pacific office of the International Federation of Journalists at its Sydney headquarters.
REF: C.J. Lloyd, Profession: Journalist (1985); G. Sparrow (ed.), Crusade for Journalism (1960).